Guide to Entertaining

Whether you’re throwing a small cocktail gathering with close friends or an all-out soirée, there are a few things to keep in mind to keep the event stress-free and fun for all.

Belinda Belk of Blue Gardenia Events says that would-be hosts should plan their event at least a month in advance, no matter the size of the crowd, because we all have “busy lives” – especially once the weather becomes more pleasant and the social gatherings stack up onto the calendar.

Guide to Entertaining

Gem Printing


One important aspect of party-planning to consider is the invitation itself. It can be difficult to keep track of Facebook invitations and social media posts. Belk recommends at least using a service like Paperless Post if you’re going the elec-tronic route, as it allows you to easily keep track of the guest list and track who’s opened the invitation or not.

Sending physical invitations can give the event an air of importance and prestige.

“Getting an invitation in the mail is a world away from opening an inbox,” says Melissa Mortillaro from GEM Printing. “From inexpensive party invites to engraved formal invitations, physical cards are far more special for guests than an email.”

An invitation sets the tone of the event, she adds. “Even if it isn’t spelled out on the actual card, an invitation can clue your guests in on how to dress and what to expect at the party. It elevates even a backyard barbecue to a memorable occasion.”

“In our day and age we have sort of lost the art of sending an invitation,” says Belk. “But when you get something in the mail it adds a level of just making peo-ple realize it’s truly a special event.” She notes that guests are also more likely to honor their RSVP upon receiving a physical invitation.

Guide to Entertaining

Mitch's Flowers


Ambiance is also a key element to consider, she says. Music, lighting and the menu are all a part of this, too. For music, she recommends making a few playlists if you’re not hiring a live band or DJ. “One of the most important ele-ments of building the scene is music,” she says.

“I would create a couple playlists, so you can transition from different parts of the evening.” For the early part of the gathering, as guests arrive, she says you can’t really go wrong with a “New Orleans gypsy jazz kind of feel — it can take you to another time and place, and it’s not too loud. You don’t want it to be too loud.”

Belk also recommends drawing inspiration for the theme, menu and décor from the season itself.

During the late summer and early fall, she says that figs, plums and peaches can help create the menu as well as the color palette.

Stephanie Tarrant, a floral designer at Mitch’s Flowers agrees with this notion.

“Bold jewel tones of the fall bloom into the year’s end,” she says. “We replace pods with berries, herbs with hearty greens and blooming branches with preserved fruit.”

Southern traditions never change, but every year florists and designers chase the trends that modify the norm, she adds.

“Deep reds, oranges and purples pop against cypress, boxwood and evergreens.”

For both inside and outdoor gatherings, “variegated leaves and petals are defending their beauty in blooming plants and premium fresh cuts.”

In terms of textures, Stephanie says “Crushed velvet, antique heirlooms and fab-rics are making a lovely comeback.” If you happen to be planning a few months in advance for a winter gathering, she adds that “green milk glass goblets and distressed garden vessels are perfect for winter décor. Freeform arranging with frogs and Oasis cages are making room for contemporary floristry in modern design.”

Belk suggests adding candles to the decor to add elegance, no matter the theme, season or the rest of the decor. Simply put, she says: “Candlelight makes everyone look good.” She notes that it’s also easy – and a good idea – to find attractive, scented, bug-repelling candles if you’re planning on hosting guests outside.

Belk also says that you don’t have to spend a fortune on new items. “Use things that you have around the home. Mix and match china; layer patterns on patterns. Using things from your home feels cohesive, special and thoughtful.”

Guide to Entertaining

Roasted beet salad with radish, burrata cheese, Meyer lemon purée and balsamic, Ralph Brennan Catering

Guide to Entertaining

Pan roasted redfish with fingerling potatoes, crispy prosciutto, and figs, Ralph Brennan Catering


Even if you love cooking, bringing in a caterer and a small waitstaff helps alleviate stress. As the host or hostess, “you want to enjoy the party as well as your guests,” says Belk. “Get help if you’re going to be running around. Being a relaxed host can help your guests feel more relaxed.”

Gail Varuso, director of catering for Ralph Brennan Catering & Events, notes that “a caterer’s job is to help them select food items not only that they like, but will also be pleasing to their guests and of course work within their budget.”

She says it’s a relief when clients learn that the caterers provide all the servicing ware, set up the event, serve and leave their kitchen spotless upon departure, “so they can enjoy the event, which is equally as important as the food and beverage.”

Varuso says she often hears clients say that hiring a caterer was the best decision they had ever made.”

Belk suggests doing as much detailed prep work in advance as possible – even just having a few people over can be a tremendous amount of work.

“It makes it so much less work on you and so much less stress,” she says. “Make it easier and take any steps to eliminate the stress and make it much more fun for you as the host.”

“Pull the platters, make sure you have all the things you need in the house so you don’t have to run to the store at the last minute,” she advises. Pre-batched cocktails help, as does picking up a few trays of food from the grocery store.

Guide to Entertaining

GEM Printing


Does your party need a theme? Not necessarily, but it does build anticipation. And in New Orleans especially, it’s never a bad idea, given how much we love any excuse to don a costume.

“I really find that any chance to dress in a different fashion is appealing,” says Belk. Just make sure you know your crowd: “Make it seem fun, but not mandatory…Some people go all-out; some just want to put a little glitter on.”

Featured Vendors

Blue Gardenia Events


GEM Printing

1904 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie

Mitch’s Flowers

4843 Magazine St.

Ralph Brennan Catering & Events

4330 Dumaine St.

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